Rickenbacker, Edward Vernon 'Eddie'
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker (October 8, 1890 - July 27, 1973) was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient. He was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines. Typed Letter Signed, 09/30/1946 - 7 1/2 x 10 Leaf: signed in blue ink pen (i.e., in the hand if the author) with the typesetting stamped copy in red. A two-fold overall, fine/very fine condition.
He was born Edward Rickenbacher (without a middle name) in Columbus, Ohio to German-speaking Swiss immigrants. From childhood, he loved machines and experimented with them, encouraged by his father’s words: “A machine has to have a purpose".
In what was to become one of the defining characteristics of Rickenbacker's life, he nearly died many times in events ranging from an early run-in with a horse-drawn carriage, to a botched tonsillectomy, to airplane crashes. His first life-threatening experience occurred when he was in the "Horsehead Gang". He lived near a mine, and they decided to ride a cart down the slope. It tipped over and almost crushed them.
Rickenbacker taught himself as much as he could, including enrolling in a correspondence course in engineering. He aggressively pursued any chance of involvement with automobiles. Rickenbacker went to work at the Columbus Buggy Company, eventually becoming a salesman.
Rickenbacker became well known as a race car driver, competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times before World War I, and earning the nickname “Fast Eddie”.
Rickenbacker joined the Maxwell Race Team in 1915 after leaving Peugeot. After the Maxwell team disbanded that same year, he joined the Prest-O-Lite team as manager and continued to race improved Maxwells for Prest-O-Lite.
Rickenbacker wanted to join the Allied troops in World War I, but the US had not yet entered the war. He had several chance encounters with aviators, including a fortuitous incident in which he repaired a stranded aircraft for Townsend F. Dodd, a man who later became General John J. Pershing’s aviation officer and an important contact in Rickenbacker’s attempt to join air combat.
When, in 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, Rickenbacker had enlisted in the United States Army and was soon training in France with some of the first American troops. He arrived in France on June 26, 1917 as a Sergeant First Class.
Rickenbacker demonstrated that he had a qualified replacement, and the military awarded him a place in one of America's air combat units, the 94th Aero Squadron, informally known as the "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron after its insignia. Originally he flew the Nieuport 28, at first without armament. On April 29, 1918, Rickenbacker shot down his first plane.
On May 28, he claimed his fifth to become an ace. Rickenbacker was awarded the French Croix de Guerre that month for his five victories.
On September 24, 1918, now a captain, he was named commander of the squadron, and on the following day, he claimed two more German planes, for which he was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover. After claiming yet another Fokker D.VII on September 27, he became a balloon buster by downing observation balloons on September 28, October 1, October 27, and October 30, 1918.
Rickenbacker flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other US pilot in the war.
Rickenbacker's most lasting business endeavor was his longtime leadership of Eastern Air Lines. Through the 1920s, he had worked with and for General Motors (GM): first as the California distributor for its new car, the short-lived Sheridan, then later as a marketer for the LaSalle, and finally as vice president of sales for their affiliate, Fokker Aircraft Company.
He persuaded GM to purchase North American Aviation, a conglomerate whose assets included Eastern Air Transport. GM asked him to manage Eastern, beginning in 1935. With the help of some friends, Rickenbacker merged Eastern Air Transport and Florida Airways to form Eastern Air Lines, an airline that eventually grew from a company flying a few thousand miles per week into a major airline.
Captain Rickenbacker suffered from a stroke while he was in Switzerland seeking special medical treatment for Mrs. Rickenbacker, and he then contracted pneumonia. Rickenbacker died on July 23, 1973 in Zürich, Switzerland.
A memorial service was held at the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church with the eulogy given by Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle, and then his body was interred in Columbus, Ohio, at the Green Lawn Cemetery.